Watch out: hazards in the modern workplace

Mark Owen – Health & Safety Expert

April 02 2018

Imagine you’re sat in your office. An employee calls and asks you to come down to the shop floor to deal with an emergency. So you sprint into the corridor, turn the corner… and slam face-first into an invisible wall. It sounds like a scene from a slapstick comedy. But it’s actually what’s been happening at Apple’s brand new headquarters in California, nicknamed the Spaceship. A marvel of modern architecture, this futuristic building features transparent glass panels and doors. A bit too transparent, as it turns out—three employees were hospitalised after running into the panels. So when you’re designing your fancy new workspace, both you and your architects need to keep health & safety in mind. Are you up to scratch? In the UK, guidelines for the design and marking of glass walls and doors are set out in British Standards. If your workspace has glass features, you need to check that you’ve met these standards. You’ll also need to assess the hazards and risks. But aren’t they the same thing? Not exactly—a hazard is something that can cause harm. In this case, a glass wall. A risk is the chance—high or low—that the hazard in question will cause someone harm. When it comes to glass doors and walls, you’ll need to keep in mind:
  • Safe access and arrangements for cleaning.
  • Whether you’ll need to stop employees from opening windows to prevent falls.
  • The effects of glare on people inside the building.
  • The fact that a glass office is essentially a greenhouse in summer.
  • Markings to make glass doors and walls visible in all lighting conditions.
  • Traffic management where roads are right next to transparent glass walls.
New trends, same rules Many companies are kitting out their new offices with fun, quirky features—games rooms, gyms, slides, firemen’s poles, and even tree houses. While these are all great ways to keep your employees entertained and motivated, health & safety still comes first. As with glass panels, you need to assess these areas and keep records of hazards and risks. So, if your trampoline is next to a window, you might want to move it somewhere safer. Working from home It’s becoming more common for employees to work from home. You might think this lets you off the hook when it comes to health & safety, but it doesn’t. Before your employee starts working from home, you need to carry out an initial assessment of their workspace. You also need to check your liability insurance to make sure it covers home and remote workers. Best practice would be for the employee to have a designated working area with office furniture and seating. And remember, home and remote workers are entitled to the same eye tests and arrangements as office-based workers. Let common sense prevail In many employers’ minds, the words ‘health & safety’ and ‘hassle’ are closely linked. But it doesn’t have to be a pain—most regulations are easy to follow. And wouldn’t you rather prevent accidents before they happen, instead of giving your employees broken noses, like Apple did?  

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